Week 39: Prat – Ed Miliband

by George_East on September 28, 2014

Labour_PratThis week’s Prat of the Week Award for an impressive second week in a row goes to the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband

I was in the pub on Wednesday night, the day after Ed Miliband’s comically useless leader’s speech to the Labour conference. The friend I was with – leftish in outlook but not an activist – said to me, ‘I’m not one for conspiracy theories but do you think Ed Miliband is a Tory plant. Now this was said in jest, but it did, I think reveal a deeper truth. The Tories could not have dreamt up the more perfect leader of the opposition to run against.

Now on these pages we’ve tried and tried again to look to the good things about Ed Miliband but boy does he make it hard.

He looked for a while as if he was going to be making a radical pitch to the electorate based on an attack on unproductive capitalism and the private monopolies (utilities, railway franchise owners etc) that rip off the public and the public purse at the same time. Some of this went under the rather ugly wonky name of pre-distribution, but if you dug down into it, there was a coherent and impressive progressive idea to be found – instead of using the tax system to redistribute after the event, the focus would be on preventing people being screwed in the first place.

Then there was the overarching thematic notion of ‘One Nation Labour’, designed (rightly) to paint the Tories the party of a geographic and sectional privileged minority.

Both the ‘One Nation’ framing and all traces of radicalism seem to have been long dropped. As I wrote a couple of months back, Labour has essentially given up even trying. Ed Balls went around the conference trumpeting a child benefit cut as a sign of ‘seriousness’.   The conference atmosphere was flat as a pancake with little belief in victory to come or enthusiasm for what happens if it achieved.  When Ian Martin wrote in the Guardian  last week that this is the most spineless opposition in living memory, it was hard to do anything but nod in agreement.

At the apex of this is, of course, the leader Ed Miliband.   On Tuesday the party looked to him to set out an inspiring vision for the 8 month fight to come and the return of a Labour government after the miserable 5 years of the coalition. I’d like to say the nation also was waiting to hear what Labour offered, but I fear that Ed Miliband lost the public a long time ago.

What they got instead was a speech, a very long speech devoid of any coherent idea. A so modest it was barely there pledge on the NHS (£2Bn doesn’t even represent 1% on income tax) and a series of frankly cringe-worthy anecdotes about ordinary folk he happened to have met who happened to articulate to him exactly what he already believed. This is a trait that is annoying enough in self-serving journalists who always seem to be taking taxis with drivers who share their own precise prejudices. In a politician who aspires to be a Prime Minister it was awful, trivial, embarrassingly bad.

And then to top it all, Ed Miliband decided again to do the note-less speech. Ever since Cameron did it as part of his pitch for the Tory leadership in 2005, this has become part of the party leader’s bag of gimmicks. But that is exactly what it is, a gimmick. No one gives a toss whether Ed Miliband can remember an hour’s worth of speech material (the answer anyway was that he couldn’t) and, it may just be me, but standing behind a lectern rather than wandering about a stage gives the impression of seriousness.

To then find out that he had forgotten two sections of his speech and not any two sections. Not a bit on, say constitutional reform or on relations with Europe, or other things that no one cares less about, but on the deficit and immigration. Probably the two worst possible topics for him to forget. The Tories and the press immediately jumped on this as evidence that Miliband and Labour aren’t interested in either, and let’s be frank, that is the impression it gave.

The Observer today reported that Ed Miliband knew he had ‘fucked up’ when he left the stage. At least he got something right.

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